Published on Arab Voices

“You've woken up now, don't go back to sleep!”

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This post is by guest blogger Nisreen Haj Ahmad. Nisreen Haj Ahmad established the Middle East Community Organizing Initiative. With eight other women in Jordan, she coaches communities in organizing themselves and their resources to achieve change. They follow a value based organizing framework developed by Prof Marshall Ganz. Follow her on twitter at

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have celebrated the values of freedom, justice and human dignity. They have reignited hope in the ability of communities to work together to bring change. They encourage taking risk coupled with a learning spirit.

For Accountability to Continue Beyond the Revolution, Francis Dobbs
 For Accountability to Continue Beyond
 the Revolution, photo by Francis Dobbs

The challenge now is to sustain citizen engagement and grow the culture of holding each other accountable. Community action cannot be from revolution to revolution. I love how one of Egypt's Shabab AlThawra said to his people: “Now that you have woken up, don’t go back to sleep”. The other challenge is to make sure that the energy does not become manipulated by various players with contradicting values or derailed by certain media stunts.

In response, I share three points.

Organizing passionate committed people in teams is critical. Not easy but doable: tens of community teams in each city around which the community spurs to action. Teams that identify and pursue change through specific collective action and recruit others in the process. They move forward together based on their values. They don’t need to fall under one umbrella. They can fall under many – some institutional, some party line, and some community based. The likelihood of the “masses” being mobilized by a passionate speech or a media stunt or the crisis of the day will decrease if communities are organized. Once organized in groups, they will see their role as social accountability, them being in teams will sustain their effort in times of crisis and in other times when the "guard is down".

So far the revolutions and recent intense civic action have been grassroot led and grassroot fed. It is important to keep it that way- don’t throw money at it and jeopardize its legitimacy. Don’t turn it into registered legal institutions that need to secure funding and accommodate donors’ guidelines to keep it going. This is not to argue that citizens need to pool their own resources to deliver services to their people. This is to argue that organized communities have the needed resources to hold each other and their government accountable and demand change.

Finally, people came out in defiance of emergency laws, laws that ban gathering, security apparatus that arrest those who organize, and "loyalist" groups that confront them with violence. They were able to do so because they came out in massive numbers. Going forward the numbers may be less- significant but not as huge. So it is important to make sure that current regimes and transitional regimes demonstrate that they stand for social accountability by removing the legal restrictions against organizing, protect citizens against thuggery and stop all practices that restrict freedom of speech and public gathering.

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